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Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth Paperback – September 7, 1999
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From the Inside Flap
A "New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
"Extraordinary. . . . Anyone with the slightest interest in biology should read this book."--"The New York Times Book Review
"A marvelous museum of the past four billion years on earth--capacious, jammed with treasures, full of learning and wide-eyed wonder."--"The Boston Globe
From its origins on the still-forming planet to the recent emergence of Homo sapiens--one of the world's leading paleontologists offers an absorbing account of how and why life on earth developed as it did. Interlacing the tale of his own adventures in the field with vivid descriptions of creatures who emerged and disappeared in the long march of geologic time, Richard Fortey sheds light upon a fascinating array of evolutionary wonders, mysteries, and debates. Brimming with wit, literary style, and the joy of discovery, this is an indispensable book that will delight the general reader and the scientist alike.
"A drama bolder and more sweeping than Gone with the Wind . . . a pleasure to read."--"Science
"A beautifully written and structured work . . . packed with lucid expositions of science."--"Natural History
About the Author
Richard Fortey lives in London.
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Buy this book if you want to know about the quality of the eggs served at Fortey's favorite bed and breakfast, "...the perfect bed and breakfast in a Tudor house with flag floors and improbable staircases. [The] breakfast was neither too much nor too little, the egg yolks were soft and the whites were cooked, the toast warm and cut into triangles on which to spread thick, home-made marmalade, and pots of tea arrived unbidden." (ACTUAL QUOTE from page 143 of Fortey hitting peak digression in a chapter on early terrestrial plant life.)
I can not understand how this book came to be known as such a touchstone on the topic.
The author hits the high points, including the evolution of single cells, the formation of bacterial colonies, the initiation of chlorophyll-based photosynthesis (that ultimately charged the atmosphere with oxygen), the specialization of cells into tissues, the population of the seas, the advance onto land, the greening of the earth, the separation of ancient Pangaea into today's separate continents, the Age of Dinosaurs, the advent of live-birth from wombs, the ascendancy of mammals, and finally the evolution of Man. For me, the most interesting chapter was on the apocalyptic cataclysm which ended the Age of Dinosaurs, i.e. the asteroid which apparently slammed into the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula creating the Chicxulub Crater. The volume also includes several photo sections that provide an adequate visual summary of the text.
The time spans of Fortey's tale are almost beyond mental grasp. For instance, at one point the author states that tool making by hominids began about 2.5 million years ago. Yet the style of the tools, the "technology" if you will, then remained virtually unchanged for the next million years. After witnessing the dizzying pace of technological advancement just during the span of my own life, this stagnation for such an incomprehensible length of time is mind-boggling.
I wish I had but a fraction of Fortey's knowledge of our world. LIFE should be required reading in every high school science program.
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